Cooking With Crimespree: Kathleen Ernst

The plot of my latest Chloe Ellefson mystery takes place at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa. When considering a murder weapon, I decided to use something fundamentally Norwegian—a lefse pin.

Lefse is a round flatbread made with mashed or riced potatoes. Although I’m not of Norwegian descent, I love it—especially served warm with butter, sugar, and cinnamon.

Since Heritage of Darkness was published, many people have told me that the cover art, or the lefse pin I take to events, evokes special memories of Mom, Grandma, or church ladies hard at work over the griddle. Other readers heft the pin itself with knowing hands and speak of making lefse themselves.

Then they usually say something along the lines of “Oh yeah, I could do some damage with this.” A lady at the Heartland Fall Forum last month grabbed one handle and did a wind-up worthy of a major league baseball pitcher.

Given how much conversation the cover image (a lefse pin stained with blood) sparked, the wonderful friend who bakes for my launch parties brought not only a gorgeous cake, but a plate of lefse. Huge, huge hit.

Want to try making some for your family or book group? Here’s a recipe:

lefseandcake - Version 2Lefse

4 cups mashed or riced Russet potatoes (about 8 medium potatoes)

1 t. salt

¼ c. of cream

4 T. butter

2 cups flour

Boil potatoes for 15-20 minutes, until they can easily be pierced with a fork but are not overdone. (Overcooking can make a sticky dough, which is more difficult to roll out.)

Drain potatoes thoroughly before mashing or ricing them. Blend in butter, cream, and salt. Add flour, mixing with a spoon or your hands until dough is well mixed.

Roll one handful of dough into a circle on a floured pastry cloth or board. Traditional grooved lefse pins help remove any last clump of potato, and help get the rounds thin. Using a pastry sock over the rolling pin helps.

Bake on a hot (about 450 degrees) griddle, turning with a stick or other implement once or twice, until both sides have brown spots and lefse is cooked through. Place lefse on cotton dish towels to cool. Serve warm, or fold in quarters and store in the fridge or freezer.

Lefse, like so many Norwegian favorites, is putzy to make! So here’s a bonus recipe. Rømmegrøt, a type of porridge, is another old world favorite. Darlene Fossum-Martin, Vesterheim’s Education Specialist and resident foodie extraordinaire, developed Rømmegrøt Bars for today’s busy home bakers.

Rømmegrøt Bars

2 pkgs. crescent rolls

2 pkgs. (8-oz. each) cream cheese, softened. (Do not use reduced-fat cheese.)

1-1/3 c. sugar, divided

1 egg, separated

1 t. vanilla

½ t. cinnamon

Grease a 9×13” baking pan. Press 1 package of crescent rolls into the bottom of the prepared pan.

Mix the cream cheese, 1 cup of sugar, 1 egg yolk, and the vanilla. Spread mixture over the crescent rolls, then cover the mixture with the other package of rolls.

Beat egg white until foamy and spread over the top. Sprinkle with 1/3 c. sugar and the cinnamon.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool and cut. Enjoy!

Kathleen Ernst

Heritage of Darkness is Kathleen’s twenty-sixth published book. In addition to the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites series, she has written many books for American Girl, including seven books about the newest historical character, Caroline Abbott. The latest is a Caroline mystery, Traitor In The Shadows. Several of her titles for young readers have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards. Kathleen lives in Wisconsin, but loves traveling to new locales for research. Visit her site at www.kathleenernst.com, www.sitesandstories.wordpress.com or on Facebook.